In 2016, brands have access to more data than ever before — but the downside is that this data onslaught has many marketers more overwhelmed than excited.

“I hear a lot of marketers worrying, saying ‘we need a big data strategy,’” said John Costello, former president at Dunkin’ Brands, speaking on a panel at xAd On Location. “But big data is not a strategy. You have to start with your brand objective first.”

In other words, it’s key for a brand to find and then interpret data through the lens of its actual goals: Does it want to drive awareness? Foot traffic? Foot traffic at one specific local store?

Below, Costello’s top three pieces of advice for marketers looking to translate data into actual insights.

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  • Start by asking, ‘what are the most important questions I need answered?’ Brands should begin by determining what questions they actually need data to answer. Here’s Costello’s example from Dunkin’: The brand wanted to know where people went before they stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts and where they went after — they needed insights on what made people decide to go to a Dunkin’ and when. But, in contrast, somewhere like Home Depot might have a different objective, Costello said: Home Depot is more of a shopping destination than a pit stop along the way. Each brand should strive to find its own unique questions.
  • Look at behavior — not just attitude info: What people actually “do” is more important than what they “say,” Costello advised. Essentially, what people say they did in a survey or report is often different than what they actually did. And that’s where mobile comes in: Through mobile location data, brands can be dependent on what people actually did, and they can get that information in a real-time way.
  • Go for depth and not just breadth: Local intelligence and insights on customer segments can be very powerful. “Once again,” Costello said, “it’s all about hitting that target of ‘right person, right time, right device.’ Use mobile to build one-to-one relationships with customers.”

“But no matter how good your data stream is, it’s important to try new techniques,” Costello concluded. “That’s the opportunity of mobile and location; data is there to supplement your judgment, but not wholly replace it.”